After four full days to think about the despicable loss to Delaware State, Wake Forest (4-3) seeks vengeance on Tuesday night against Minnesota in an ACC-Big 10 Challenge showdown. To be blunt, the Hornets stung the Demon Deacons hard. The Deacs looked lethargic, unmotivated and inflexible. Delaware State put a clear blueprint on how to beat this team: fluster Devin Thomas on the inside. They bullied him and double-teamed him and did whatever it took to aggravate the energetic junior. To combat their inside presence, Delaware State played zone for long portions of the game and dared the Wake guards to shoot. Wake failed to make enough deep shots and lost 72-65.
We know the numbers: it was a horrible loss. But let's tone down the Stetson comparisons and give Danny Manning some time to settle in and mold this young roster. More than the loss itself, what's more important to me is how this team copes from a rough early setback. How do they adapt to defenses playing zone and bullying Thomas? Which guard is going to step up into the role as long-range gunner and floor spreader? And most importantly, how does Manning motivate these players following the defeat?
We as fans are all impatient to cheer for a winner. And rightfully so. But we knew it was going to be a multi-year rebuilding process due to the dumpster fire that Manning was handed. Now it's time take a deep breath, move on and let this Wake team grow.
The Gophers fly down to Winston-Salem with a 4-2 record with a win over Georgia and losses to No. 8 Louisville and a pesky St. John's team. Second-year coach Richard Pitino- yes, his father taught him a lesson a few weeks ago- is at the helm of a veteran squad. The 32-year-old Pitino returns three starters and two key reserves from last season's NIT Champions.
Minnesota is currently ranked 38th in KenPom and plays at a frenetic pace. It comes as no surprise that they rank 10th in the nation in forcing turnovers. Often employing the trademark Pitino press and trap, they force a turnover on 27.1 percent of possessions. Due to their aggressive man-to-man defense, they have one of the worst foul rates in the nation. Expect Wake to play at least two great ball-handlers at a time to break the press and capitalize on the free points. The Gophers, themselves, have shot a putrid 55.2 percent from the line, good for seventh worst in the nation. This could be a huge factor in a close game.
Wake Forest, who ranks first in the nation on the offensive glass (19.9 percent of shot attempts), will have the edge on the boards. Minnesota has size and speed from all positions, but oddly, doesn't have a single player averaging over five rebounds a game. Yet five players average at least four boards per game.
On offense, the Gophers boast a balanced attack with four players averaging double-figures. Senior guard Andre Hollins leads the charge with 11.7 points per game. Backcourt running mate DeAndre Mathieu is a clever ball-handler and great at finding open space. He averages five dimes per game, while the Gophers rank 11th in the nation with 18 assists per game.
Down low, Wake needs to watch out for 6-11 Maurice Walker. The senior has deft touch around the rim, averaging 10 points per game on 57.4 percent from the field. Also, freshman guard Nate Mason provides a great spark off the bench with his limitless range. He shoots 52.6 percent from behind the arc on 3.2 attempts per game.
KenPom predicts a tight one at the Joel, with Minnesota prevailing 68-67. While I believe a determined Wake team rebounds well from the game versus Delaware State, the deceptive Gophers defense will give the young Deacs fits. And Minnesota's experience will be the difference.
Wake Forest 65